Friday, 24 December 2010

A Christmas Message

It's about Christ isn't it? Christmas that is. This is an uncomfortable aspect of the feast for the atheists. On the other hand, we are only just past the shortest day; We can look forward to summer being on its way. A festival at this time of year has been part of human society for much longer than even the age of Stonehenge.

I started watching Jesus Christ Superstar last night. It was being aired on ITV and is one of those performing arts pieces that define my youth. Being brought up as Catholic, it is actually interesting to me that my mother encouraged its presence in our house when one considers the controversy surrounding this rock opera. This is not so surprising when I think back to her support over such subjects as my own sexual development, and her open and outright opposition to the Catholic churches doctrines over contraception and sexual health. I suspect that without her deliberate and considered scepticism I'd have ended up a much more troubled person than I have actually turned out to be.

The film was being screened late in the evening, I'd been to the pub and on returning home opened a bottle of one of my all time favourite beers; Theakston's Old Peculier. The bottle doesn't say if it is bottle conditioned or not. There didn't seem to be any sediment and to be honest it's not as good as the cask version. I suspect it is chill filtered and re-carbonated and I'm disappointed that this traditional classic is not better in the bottle. However, I will still buy more of it in the future if for no other reason than it was the very first beer I really enjoyed nearly 30 years ago. I'd drunk many others, all poor keg version of what were probably once great beers. Theakston managed to hit the spot and that cask beer is what started me on my road of evangelistic beer geekdom.

It could have been the beer, or the late hour, but I failed to finish watching the film; it didn't matter, I've been involved in staged versions of the musical and know it quite well.

The story portrayed in the Rice-Webber composition are the simple facts as best we can distil from the propaganda of the late Christian Roman Empire. There are no claims of Christ's miracle powers or any confirmation that he might have been God-made-man. It could simply be seen as a story about a freedom fighter standing up against an occupying Roman administration. The fact that he uses, so the story goes, religious rhetoric to get his point across is no unusual occurrence in the ancient world.

Of course the Roman Empire almost certainly helped to spread good technology, fiscal systems, law and order and cultural refinement alike. Their apparent barbaric feudal-like society might well be abhorrent to us and the early Christians alike, but it almost certainly helped develop our modern society and culture. The alphabet contained in my writing is largely the same as the Romans used in their written Latin language. Perhaps Christ was a necessary development, a challenge to what was wrong with the then current human order. Whether the Christian religion can still play a useful part in helping our society is a debatable point, although Psalm 23 helped me at my mothers funeral; something life-long atheists may struggle to understand.

I like the fact that JC Superstar is a simple, almost believable story of what might actually have happened to Jesus. No religious interpretation, just a narrative of the struggle of a local man against the burgeoning administration of the Romans. The cinematography and soundtrack editing could have been smoother and that irritates me, but it's nearly 40 years old and bound to look like a 1970's film.

The challenge to the beer world back in the early 1970's was certainly needed. The founders of CAMRA certainly started something powerful. The organisation was originally called the Campaign for Revitalisation of Ale and has now grown to an organisation boasting over 115,000 members. There is no doubt it has helped to shape the beer world we now see in the UK.

Certainly there is a desire to buck against mass homogenisation of the beer world. That desire is still here nearly 40 years since CAMRA was founded.

Two thousand years after the birth of Jesus our modern world still hangs onto the story of Christ. We also hang onto the story of Mr Claus. We're afraid that the magic of the season will somehow vanish if we turn our backs on the stories. Many young people are told that if they don't believe in Santa he won't come. We know they are not true. We know really that it was the end of the Roman Empire that shaped what we now have as the Christian religion. Modern scientific research has constantly found major faults with The New Testament, but still, we base our holidays on the festivals chronicled in these stories that are almost certainly distortions of what actually happened.

The reader could be excused for thinking from the above that I am an atheist. The truth is that I am not. I dislike anyone telling me that I am not allowed to think about, or for that matter write about what I really think. What I believe is that humanity has an omnipresent power that can manifest itself in either good or evil, and many shades in between. I believe we can make ourselves live in the minds of others for many years after our death. Hitler has and Jesus have. How we are remembered will be shaped by what we do when we are alive. Unfortunately, to be able to call myself a Christian I must believe that Christ was God made man - I am no longer prepared to believe that. What I do believe is that we can learn from ancient fables such as those written by the Greek philosophers and those written by Jesus' Disciples later edited by the Romans. Perhaps the Qu'ran could also help us, were it not for that fact that it seems to have been elevated to the same status as the Christian Gospels. Good stories don't have to be true to help us. Making them doctrines in the modern free-thinking world is what spoils their value.

I love beer. I love cask beer. I love bottle conditioned beer. Cask Old Peculier is my Psalm 23 of the beer world. The bottle version doesn't seem to be "Real Ale" but remains one of my drinks of choice, perhaps in this form it might not be worthy, but I can wander down to the local shop and get a 4 pack for a reasonable price.

I consider myself a Christian, despite the fact that I don't believe that Jesus was God-made-man. I still have an affection for the fables contained in the Bible, despite the fact that the models of Heaven and Hell are, in my mind, just that; models. I do not see why I can't be a Christian without being a believer and retain my right to free thought. Besides, I don't feel comfortable believing in Christmas without it. If nothing else, Christmas is an excuse to drink more beer than one usually does, I'm not sure how I'm going to manage that, but it's worth a try. Is it useful to make young children believe in Father Christmas any more than it is to make them believe in Baby Jesus? Are these things essential to make Christmas work?

It could be said that Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, has grown too powerful, when scientific and technological developments make the dogmas of such ancient organisations outdated and out of touch. In a world where population and disease control need contraception and in my view any organisation that claims to be compassionate is irresponsible to condemn such things.

Chill-filtering of beer helps to make it more approachable, less variable and more economic to produce. The science of bottling shows me that bottle conditioning is fraught with difficulties. Despite that I still believe there is much to learn from the ideal that cask beer or bottle conditioned beer is simply the best. I really do believe that this is the case and the founding principles of CAMRA are based on that.

The science of beer making has been bolstered by the bigger brewers who we often feel the need to fight against. Without big industry research would not be funded, this is true of any industry and is no less true in our beer-world. Just like The Romans brought aqueducts, underfloor heating, our alphabet and crucifixion. Christianity has shaped much of our society, but is perhaps now looking very outdated. Santa is just as believable and we now worship him with as much vigour, even if he is a Coca-cola red.

CAMRA remains the guiding light for many who are passionate about good beer. I am, and expect to remain a member of CAMRA for a good while yet. Recent persuasion by many within SIBA have convinced me that I really ought to join and enjoy some of the benefits of being a member of such an organisation. I suspect that my membership of any organisation will inspire me to consider many aspects of that organisation, I suspect that I am unlikely to change in that respect. I don't doubt many hang onto their unswaying belief in their beer organisation of choice.

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"All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need... fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little—"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

"They're not the same at all!"

YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET—Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE WORLD, AS IF THERE IS SOME... SOME RIGHTNESS IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.

"Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what's the point—"

MY POINT EXACTLY."

— Terry Pratchett (Hogfather)
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Personally my all-time favourite Pratchett quote is:
"..... writing is the most fun anyone can have by themselves"
I intend to have much more fun by myself next year. Meanwhile, here's wishing all the readers of this blog a Very Hoppy Christmas and Prosperous New Beers

5 comments:

Velky Al said...

An excellent read sir!

For all my issues with religion, I wish you a happy Christmas.

Sid Boggle said...

Bugger me, Dave, that's some profound shit there! Wishing you and the better half a lovely non-specific festival with roasted flesh and some booze and some Frank Sidebottom...

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Hear, hear. And make mine a Tanninbomb on cask.

Zak Avery said...

I'd describe my self as 'christian with a small c'.

In fact, I did so to a pair of Mormons a couple of years ago on the doorstep, and they laughed in my face, which I thought was a nice illustration of why we can't all get along, no matter how hard you try.

The Hearty Goodfellow said...

To confirm - the Old Peculiar is yet to be bottle-conditioned.

Of all the 'big' beers that aren't, this one must be one of the 'biggest' travesties.